Kai Rotorua is a non-profit volunteer organisation made up of over 130 individuals and organisations. They began as a group of 30 locals with a passion for local, nourishing, sustainably produced food. Their mantra is that ‘everybody eats so they can bring out the passion for good, nutritious, home-grown food in anyone they come across’. Kai Rotorua also delivers a Māori cultural education through the cultivation of the land.

Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea, fondly referred to as ‘Matua Kūmara’ is an inspirational mentor and leader – he talks about how Kai Rotorua began after bumping into his mates at the supermarket, inviting them to sit down over a cuppa and asking if they would lend some land to grow and harvest kūmara for the community.  That was back in 2017 and since then, Kai Rotorua along with a consortium, have bought the land and work with council, schools, justice and public health facilities and other community organisations to help bring youth back to the soil.

“About four years ago we needed some help in the field, so we called the local kura to ask for a few boys to help out – they sent us a busload and we’ve never looked back. We had them planting by hand and plowing while having korero about the two variety of heritage seeds they were planting and how they connected back to their whakapapa.  The physical work on the whenua combined with story-telling, culture and a sense of belonging is important.  Now when they see me walking down the street they wave and callout hey Matua Kūmara!”

Kai Rotorua are active in the community and hold networking events, community educational workshops, teach gardening education in local schools and kura, provide kūmara for commercial food production and are advocating for horticulture to be included in school curriculum. They are currently trialing income-generating methods to self-fund their community projects and work in schools.

Most of this season’s crop is being grown to feed around 2-3 thousand people for the Matariki festival in Rotorua.

“We also provide smaller kūmara to one of our local restaurants that makes soup for us so we can give it to local schools and whānau,” he said.

Māori are disproportionately affected by food insecurity; many have lost their connection with Papatūānuku and have grown up without the traditional knowledge around how to grow their own kai. Kai Rotorua is using a multi-pronged approach to address food security in Rotorua by.

By reconnecting whanau with Papatūānuku, Kai Rotorua has ignited an interest in healthy kai as a means of connecting people to their heritage as well as the obvious health benefits.

We could have stayed all day and listened to Matua Kumara’s stories –  ngā mihi Kai Rotorua!

Find out more about Kai Rotorua here